Things Not to Say During an Intervention

By the time an intervention has been called, the family is almost always at their wits’ end. (Though an intervention usually seems like a last resort, we can easily make the case that it should be called earlier—not after “the last straw.”) Over the years, the family of someone suffering from addiction has probably tried everything they can think of, and certainly all the yelling and guilt-tripping that can be so easy, in these cases, to fall into.

What is an Intervention?

However, an intervention should be a loving meeting. We work together to encourage someone into treatment with love, respect, and support—and so we have to break through, and discard, the methods that have tried and failed in the past. Family members may have things they feel they need to say, because they’ve been hurt and they want their loved one to understand that. But a lot of what family members want to say should not be said. Those techniques have not worked in the past, though they’ve probably been tried many times. In our interventions, we don’t enter attack mode: we stay calm. We don’t want to trigger an argument, which is unlikely to lead to change.

There are a few things that won’t work in an intervention:

Go to treatment or else!

This strategy has probably been tried in vain many times. “Go to treatment or …. I leave / cut you off / kick you out of the house.” Ultimatums have probably been shouted hundreds of times in the past, and like many ultimatums they’ve likely failed. The person in recovery has probably been kicked out before. They’ve probably been left before. And they’ve probably been cut off before. But, in the end, the family always lets them come home, takes them back, or starts to give them money again. An empty ultimatum will not help someone agree to treatment.

You did this to me!

We understand that the individual’s addiction caused a lot of damage to the family. However, during the intervention, attacking the suffering person will only make them get defensive and then lash out. At our meetings before an intervention, we air out those painful memories and bad dynamics, so that we can go into the intervention without creating an aggressive dynamic.

Why don’t you just stop?

By the time someone has made it to an intervention, every aspect of their life is informed and shaped by drugs and alcohol—it’s their way of dealing with problems, solutions, successes, failures. All of their friends may also use drugs and alcohol. They can’t imagine a different kind of life. At this point, asking them to “just stop” is tantamount to asking them to give up everyone and everything that they know. It’s going to take them some time to rebuild their life, to build a new life, and they won’t get there by “just stopping.”

Loved ones, intentionally or not, often know exactly where to attack. In an intervention, the interventionist and the family lose all control if two people enter attack mode. It can be frustrating, certainly, for loved ones to hear that an intervention is not actually the right place to give their family member a piece of their mind—to let them know how much they’ve hurt the family as a result of their addiction—but that doesn’t mean that there will never be a time. Rather, once the affected person is in treatment and therapy, and possibly engaged in a 12 Step program, they will be encouraged to spend a lot of time on rebuilding their relationships. That’s the time to address the really painful stuff—and the goal of an intervention is to help the suffering person get to the very beginning of that long journey.

Adam Banks is a certified recovery coach and interventionist at Suntra Modern Recovery.  He received an MBA from the University of Chicago and built a company which United Health Care acquired. He learned his rigor and attention to detail from his career as an airline pilot, holding an ATP, the FAA’s highest license.

Suntra Modern Recovery provides medical treatment for alcohol and opiate addictions via video visit with medical doctors. Suntra’s alcohol and drug intervention services are available in New York, Long Island, and the Hamptons. Treatment for opiate and heroin addiction, including Suboxone treatment, can start today.

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